City noticing system leaves room for improvement: Could you recognize a municipal construction alert?

It is far from rare for a construction project to come before any one of La Jolla’s community groups, proceed to the La Jolla Community Planning Association for ratification, and then be faced with residents who come forth with their opposition.

Why do these residents wait until the last local step before a project proceeds to the City to voice their protests?

They often say they were not notified about the project.

Although it’s a project requirement for the City of San Diego Development Services Department to let residents (within 300 feet) know when a development or construction project is planned, flaws in the system often lead to the notices being thrown away or otherwise lost.

Two reasons identified for the “missing” notices are that they are tri-folded sheets of paper sent through the mail and addressed to “occupant” or “property owner” with a return address of “City of San Diego,” which can be confused for junk mail; and they are sent months — or even a year — in advance causing residents to forget about the message.

These notices are either a Notice of Application, in which anyone in a 300-foot radius is informed that an application has been filed with the details of the project; or a Notice of Future Decision, in which residents are informed that Development Services Department could make a decision about the project either with or without a public hearing.

While the Notice of Future Decision states there may be local project review, it does not say when or where, and that particular information comes at the bottom of the notice.

La Jolla Shores Permit Review Committee (PRC) chair Dave Gordon, who has often heard people complain that they were never notified about a project, opined: “While the City’s notice includes contact information for the La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA), the City includes the LJCPA phone number (which gets you an answering machine), it should also provide the e-mail address and website. Then again, the website does have some information explaining the ‘La Jolla process,’ but it lacks other details. For example, it still has the wrong dates for some meetings and does not include the names and contact information for the sub-committees.

“It would be nice if the mailer could give the public a time frame when a project is likely to be heard. However, that might be difficult to do. Alternatively, the notice should at least tell people that public hearings may not occur for several months and advise people to check the agendas posted on the LJCPA website and the City’s website.”

At its February meeting, LJCPA voted to draft a letter to the City asking it to re-write its Notice of Future Decision, and place the information about community review above the blurb indicating no public hearing. The document currently opens with a statement letting residents know there will not be a public hearing on a project, and several paragraphs down, notes a project may come before a community advisory group meeting for review.

Physical notices

In the event a resident misplaces a notice, a Notice of Application is required to be posted on site.

Local architect Paul Benton explained: “The notices come from the same City project manager handling the rest of the issues with the project; sometimes these notices come in the mail or are e-mailed to (the applicants) and we print it and post it at the site (in bright green). If it is lost, we can make a copy of it and replace it, or get the project manager to send us another.

“The notices must remain there, but sometimes they deteriorate over the months and are lost or relocated or something else. So the applicant is not required to guard the notice or replace it whenever it’s lost, but I think the community groups realize that the notice was adequate if it is replaced in a reasonable amount of time.”

In terms of noticing, that is effectively the extent to which the City must go to let people know what is coming to their neighborhood.

“If a notice is improper, the most significant consequence is that a meeting may have to be postponed. It is not a great outcome, but usually everyone understands,” Benton said.

Neighborhood construction news: Proactive La Jollans who want information about impending construction projects may visit the City’s OpenDSD online platform. Search options include listing the approval or project number found on the notice or searching by address at opendsd.sandiego.gov/web/approvals

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